Monday, April 8, 2013


A hole was blown into this Citadel wall during the 1968 Tet Offensive
It’s another day in the former imperial city of Hue, and I make another visit to the massive Citadel, where the kings lived. This time I’m in the southwest of the complex, walking along the inside wall of the old fortress. Several feet thick in places, it's made of stone blocks and brick. It's also heavily scarred in many places. Back during the war, communist troops took over the entire Citadel in the 1968 Tet Offensive. This part of the Citadel was among the last of the holdouts for the communist side, and they they put up a fierce battle against US forces here.
Shrapnel holes still scar the Citadel's walls

Many war damaged buildings are still in ruins
Walking along the wall, some marks peppered here and there are from individual bullet rounds. They are dwarfed by much larger holes and damage from heavier American military might. Since the stubborn North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) were so well entrenched behind the thick walls of the Citadel, American forces had to rain down everything short of B-52 strikes, in order to take the Citadel back. Some of the explosions have blown holes through the thick brick walls large enough for a man to crawl through. There’s still a lot of shrapnel and spent bullets lodged deep inside the old walls as well.

In the fighting for Hue and the Citadel, communist troops were well supplied, well armed, and well entrenched. In the first days of the fierce battle, the ARVN and small number of US Army troops that faced them were unable to win back the city on their own. So what was the solution for the American generals? Send in the Marines.

Brought in from their base just south of the city in Phu Bai, the US Marines had mainly been fighting in Vietnam’s countryside. To retake Hue, they would face their first urban battle in Vietnam. As they battled through the city, the Marines had to fight their way from house to house, and block to block. Progress was slow, and fighting was heavy. They first battled to retake the south side of the city, and after a rare amphibious crossing of the Perfume River, they moved to attack the heavily fortified Citadel where I am now.

Reconstruction is underway for this royal walkway
The queen mother's tile floor is now exposed to the elements
Although the French had attacked the Citadel in decades past, the fighting that took place here between the Marines, and the communist troops was the heaviest fighting the Citadel had ever seen. The scarred walls and ruins still here remain as silent witnesses to the destruction. When the battle for the Citadel was finally over and the city of Hue was declared secure, the total number of casualties was high. The ARVN had 380 dead, and 1,800 wounded. For the Marines, about 150 were killed, and more than 800 injured. This was an extremely high rate of casualties, and amounted to almost half of the Marines in Hue.

Facing massive firepower, the number of NVA and VC casualties was even higher, with an estimated 5,000 dead. Trapped in the citadel in the final days, many had fought to the end. In what had been one of Vietnam’s most beautiful cities, more than half of Hue had been destroyed.

Meandering through the other walled in enclosures, I enter Ta Tra royal hall, an old royal waiting room for the queen
mother. On the floor is gorgeous, intricate royal tilework, but above it, there is open sky. Only the building’s frame remains standing, it’s a skeleton of a building now. An engraved sign states, “TA TRA BUILDING WAS SERIOUSLY DAMAGED BY WAR IN 1968 AND BY A TYPHOON IN 1985.”

An elephant roaming the Citadel? It's tied down. Or is it?
Between the wars, typhoons and aging, it’s a wonder that any of the royal complex survived at all. Some of the compounds in the Imperial City are nearly vacant. The long green grass of nature has replaced luxurious buildings, and only a few broken walls and old foundations remain. 

Leaving the battle scarred section, I stroll over to the Citadel's restored side.  Here one part of the royal complex has been transformed into an art university. As I walk past it appears that school is out, since I don’t see any students. The only resident I see inside now, is an elephant! He seemed to be staring right at me, waving his great ears back and forth as I walked past. With tall grass around his feet, I couldn’t tell if he was tethered to anything, or not. I wasn’t about to approach him to find out. 

He must have been secured somehow; I can’t imagine an elephant being allowed to roam loose inside the Citadel.


  1. This is a terrific website. You've done a great job.
    My first combat as an Infantry officer was the battle for Hue during TET '68. We were 2d Battalion 505th Infantry (Airborne) under the operational control (OPCON) of 3rd Marine Division.
    My platoon discovered the first of the mass graves just outside the city along the Perfume River, of civilians murdered by the VC and NVA. Hue was shot to bits in certain districts - mostly around the Citadel. There was the stink of burning and rotting bodies, and the weather was rainy and very cold at night. I've never been back. Good to see the city rebuilt

  2. Thank you Phil, I'm glad you like the website. It sounds like I walked some of the same streets that you did when you were there in Hue during the battle in 1968. I'm also pleased that the city has been rebuilt. Thanks for your comment, I'm always glad to hear from veterans who were there.